Living with the Death of a Partner

In our society, we are well-practiced at supporting people through the first days following a death. Support may include attending funeral rituals, the increased presence of family and friends, and community empathy; (neighbors may make meals, do yard work and care for children).

Until people experience the death of a partner, they may not realize that the grief can last many years. Although people may feel better and go about daily life, they may revisit strong feelings of grief. In the midst of what may be the most intense emotional experience of a lifetime, grieving partners may also face:

  • change of identity
  • loss of dreams
  • financial loss
  • social isolation
  • increased family and household responsibility
  • increased vulnerability to health problems.

Survivors may experience a sudden lack of identity socially because they are not included in a world made up of couples. With the earning power of one instead of two, they may have to forfeit their lifestyle. They also may discover that the role of being a partner greatly contributed to their sense of identity. The loss not only may include the partner and the relationship, but also may include their sense of self. Plans and dreams made as a couple may no longer fit or be possible, so survivors may also lose their future plans. Juggling these losses at the same time that they must take on roles and duties that had been handled by their partner is a Herculean task. Adjusting to life after losing a partner commonly produces:

  • feelings of sadness, despair, emptiness, anger and guilt (check out our Depression topic within Problems)
  • restlessness and sleep problems
  • a sense of inadequacy and concerns about health and well-being.

The everyday world usually stops for survivors at the time of death of their partner; however, long before they are ready to resume their responsibilities and schedules, surviving partners with children at home or with work commitments experience pressure to get on (info for grief at Mid-Life…) with things. Surviving partners who are in retirement (…and also for Later Life) may experience the emptiness of unstructured days. More disturbing for many than the push to resume activities is an emotional push to let go, to move on, and to re-partner.

For those people who have lost a partner after a lengthy illness, much of the grief may occur during the illness. They may experience relief for the end of suffering or they may expect to feel relief but find themselves unexpectedly feeling an enormous loss.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *